Last season was a bit of magic for 21-year-old left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren.
He finished his junior year at Mississippi State with an astounding average of 16.3 strikeouts per nine innings that led all NCAA pitchers. The conversion from starter to reliever that occurred during his sophomore year with the Bulldiogs had proven to be a major success.
So much so, the Yankees, with their first pick in the 2014 Draft – actually the 55th selection – took the 5-11, 180-pound native of the Gulf of Mexico town of Bay St. Louis, Miss., and signed him quickly.
“It’s been quite a year,” said Lindgren, as Double-A Trenton’s 2014 season wound down. “I am learning a lot and just want to get better, more consistent.”
After signing, Lindgren overpowered the Gulf Coast League, South Atlantic League and Florida State League, allowing just one earned run in 13.1 innings. He walked four and struck out 30.
At Trenton, he faced a bit more of a challenge in Double-A hitters, recording a 1-1, 3.86 mark in 11.2 innings. He allowed five earned runs, struck out 18 and walked nine. He had a few outings in which his control went a bit awry, perhaps hitting a wall.
Several observers thought, rightfully so, Lindgren may have run out of gas a bit in late in August in Trenton. With the 55.1 innings he threw in relief at Mississippi State, he topped out at 80.1 innings for the season, a heavy workload for a young reliever.
“I would agree Jacob threw a lot of innings between college and in our system,” said 2014 Trenton manager Tony Franklin. “I could see where there would be a bit of fatigue. He has great stuff. He’ll come back next spring and battle for a spot in the Yankees bullpen.”
Lindgren can see the end if the tunnel as well.
“There are sone things I have to work on,” he said. “I know what they are. I’m excited about what I can accomplish in the future.”
Double-A did prove to be a bit more of a challenge to Lindgren at the end of the 2014 season, but he still held Eastern League hitters to a .154 average.
Lindgren throws a fastball that sits in the 93-94 range and features an impressive amount of run and sink. It can freeze hitters with its drop. He complements that with a power slider in the mid-80s, which is equally effective in keeping hitters off-balance. He can also throw a change and curve, but both of those pitches were put into storage when he was converted from a starter to a closer at Mississippi State.
There is little reason why Lindgren can’t help the Yankees bullpen in 2015. He needs to tighten his control a bit and not let baserunners bother him. A key to a reliever pitching crucial innings is to forget about any baserunners and remember your fielders are poised to help. That does not always come naturally and is part of the growing process of any young reliever.
The Yankees did well drafting a potential future closer with the 55th pick in 2014. Lindgren definitely has that pedigree. He’ll likely open the 2015 season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but certainly ought to push himself to The Bronx by the All-Star Break if not sooner.